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Graduate Student Housing

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2003, Machado and Silvetti Associates. 1 Western Ave.

Harvard's projected expansion to Allston is off to an auspicious start with the construction of a high-rise dormitory. On a prominent site along the Charles River, the fifteen-story precast-stone tower with adjacent five-story brick buildings around a U-shaped courtyard already constitutes a notable landmark. Additionally, it heralds an enlarged campus in Allston to be merged with the existing Business School, and, it is hoped, with the community.

Created by two professors at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, the structure accommodates 365 graduate students in 235 apartments ranging from studios to three-bedroom suites, all furnished with up-to-date amenities and Internet access. By far the dorm's most striking feature is the housing in the three-story 180-foot bridge, which spans the front of the open court. Together with the wood-planked deck, and unusual wooden benches, echoing the boathouses and rowing crews along the Charles, the bridge may be deemed a proscenium arch framing the river view, the towers of Peabody Terrace (HS9) and the Georgian architecture of Dunster House (see HS8) opposite. Had Renzo Piano's addition to the Fogg Art Museum (HY15) been built on the Cambridge side, the vista may have been enhanced. As is, the contextual aspect bows to the adjacent brick buildings of the Business School and the 1990s retro-style Genzyme plant (AB12) across Western Avenue.

Aside from the disposition of the three principal components, the dormitory is distinguished by its unusual fenestration and by the use of an excessive variety of materials. The tower is punctuated by a seemingly random pattern of windows, whereas openings on the bridge are symmetrically aligned and trimmed with projecting frames, lending a quasi three-dimensional appearance to the wavelike surface. Textural differentiation is noted not only in the brick surfaces but also in the undulating forms of glass-fiber reinforced concrete on the underside of the bridge, leading one critic (Robert Campbell) to call the architecture “a symphony in the key of flat.”

Latent associations may be applied to a design created by sophisticated architects, who bring a surfeit of intellectual baggage to the multivalent elements of the building, meanings relating to the Charles River. Shades of Venturi and Scott Brown appear in the interpretation of 1 Western Avenue as a sign. May the lawn, now filled with an excess of asphalt, serve as a future arena for theatrical performances? Only dance seems viable considering the acoustical ambient dominated by ceaseless traffic along Soldiers Field Road.

Harvard envisions the shaping of a new community in Allston, academically a crossdisciplinary potential between the arts and the sciences. Unlike the insular layout of the Business School, the new plan is sensitive to local input, evident in the alteration of the original design, which shifted the tower from Western Avenue to the west, with the arched entrance on the street allowing public access to the courtyard. At present, the university has formed an edge along the heavily trafficked thoroughfare, a new campus boundary, one that presages the transformation of a gray area defined by parking lots and industrial buildings, into a vibrant neighborhood, uniting the gap between town and gown.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Keith N. Morgan

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